State of the Quest

We’re going to be posting a bit differently, here at Lost to the Aether, for at least the near future. Your main man was wounded recently, and while it’s not anything you should be worrying about, the effects of this do mean that I’m having a harder time focusing and putting the kind of thought I usually do into these posts. I should be able to make a full recovery with time, but until then, well, the content’s just going to be a little different around here, more in line with my presently diminished capacity. So, you know, fair warning. I hope you’re into it. I hope I’m into it, too.

Today I’m going to go back to an old standby and talk about myself. I’m good at that. Specifically, my little gaming quest. I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, once upon a time, I got the odd idea in my head that I was going to beat all of my games. All of them. I’ve been collecting games since I was a cub, I’ve got a lot of them. I give myself a bit of a break when the game is too glitchy to progress, or in the very, extremely, infinitesimally rare case I’m not skilled enough to beat a game, but overall, if I own it, I will beat it. I’m going through my entire collection, with games grouped by the console generation they released in, and by hook or by crook beating every single game I own.

This little quest has been an interesting one. Some games I never would have given the chance I did, some games I found that I enjoyed in a different way, and some games, playing them this way has actually given to my perspective of them. This quest has certainly changed the way I value games and the experiences contained therein.

But have I mentioned that I have a lot of games? Because I have a lot of games. The NES era took me a few weeks to play through. SNES took me several months. The N64/PS generation took me about a year to clean out. The PlayBoxCube era? I have been at this for years. Many years. Too many years. Longer than I’d care to admit. Children have been born into my family since I started, and have now grown old enough that I can have a sensible conversation with them. It’s been a long time. Part of which is that this was the generation I started making an income in, then one that I filled in later when I started picking up the other consoles for cheap, so my collection is perhaps the largest in this area. Part of it is that there are just so many JRPGs on these consoles bloody hell and they all take like 40 hours minimum to beat.

But for all the causes, I’m most of the way through. I estimate that I’ll be through the rest of this console generation and on to the next, hopefully not so long one, in about a year. That might be a bit optimistic of me, but still, pretty close. I’m excited.

I thought I’d take a look at all the rest of the games ahead of me. What do I have coming up, what shall soon be moving through the life of Aether, what more must I conquer before the next milestone. Because sometimes, it’s just fun to get organized.

Currently Playing

Tales of the Abyss

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So of all the games I haven’t beaten yet on this quest, this one is one of my favorites. The Tales series has, overall, been pretty solid ever since Tales of Symphonia, and Tales of the Abyss shows the developers in rare form. The Tales series has spent the past decade and a half really strong in terms of characterization, oddly charming technobabble, and in pointedly subverting common storytelling tropes, and Tales of the Abyss showcases some of the best the series has to offer. Mixing the typical JRPG wayfaring and dungeon diving with a fast-paced Smash Bros-esque combat engine keeps the experience feeling really varied and fresh. They don’t really add much new to the mechanics here over previous installments, and the new features they do add seem largely circumstantial, but the mechanics are very solid. I’m having a good time with it.

Also, I get to play as a left hander in this game. How often do I get to do that?

Summoner: A Goddess Reborn

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The other game I’m currently playing is one of the best games I have left on my list. This one is one of the worst.

Which I suppose if this is the bottom of the barrel, the barrel’s not really that bad. Summoner: A Goddess Reborn is no Fur Fighters, or Turok: Evolution, or Fallout Tactics. It’s not the type of game that actively offends me for its existence. It’s just… kind of bad.

You remember when THQ made RPGs? Yeah, those were always kind of quirky titles, none of them actually very good. This is along those lines. I’m actually really interested in the lore and the world. It’s obvious the developers put a lot of time and thought into those. I just wish they put as much into their engine and presentation. Gameplay is as slow and clunky as my uncle’s pinto. When it goes bad, it gets about as explosively horrible, too. Graphics and sound are poor, and the art design is all over the place. It’s world is interesting, but it’d take a better game to keep me around if I wasn’t forcing myself to.

I’m a little worried that I may not actually be capable of taking this game the whole way through. Most of the time, strategy or skill makes at least a bit of a difference to how well combat goes, but when the game hits its bad points, that goes out the window and there’s not a whole lot to do except button-mash and hope it works out for you. I haven’t been completely stopped yet, but I’m worried that I’ll run into one of those bottle-necks where skill or preparation doesn’t matter and the odds are too stacked against me to make any headway, and that’ll be a really unsatisfying end to this run.

Continue reading

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Snap Judgments: Persona 5

Everyone who knows I play, which is a lot less people in my personal life than one might think, have been asking me about Mass Effect Andromeda.  Figuring I would have pounced all over it.  I have had to keep reminding them that although I’m not disinterested, there’s another game that my heart already belongs to, coming out at right about the same time.  And although I’ve got a lot of love to go around, in this case, I’m wanting to take the time.  Make myself a commitment, at least for a while.

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Persona 5.  I have been looking forward to this game like none other.  At least looking  forward in the sense that I totally consumed the first couple trailers they put out years ago, then avoided every single piece of content about the game since in the hopes of protecting my precious virgin experience.  I like to play hard to get.

It came out yesterday.  I’ve spent most of my free time since it came into my hands with this little beauty here.  And, it’s so rare that I play a game when it’s so fresh that I thought I’d make note of the occasion and record my thoughts so far.  In brief, though.  The more time I spend here is the less time I spend playing Persona 5.

So, a bit of book keeping up front, I’m 5 and a half hours into the game so far.  So this might have spoilers for that bit of it.  Outside of that, though, nothing.  And really, that 5 and a half hours is still the intro.

Persona 5 has a slow paced start.  So did Persona 4, and 5 is a bit faster paced than that, but even so, outside of the en media res opening, it still takes a good hour before you’re getting into any action.  So, you know, be ready for that.

Although it is also possible to lose the game before it actually starts, just by answering the first question incorrectly.  That was pretty fun, actually.

The big things that stand out to me about Persona 5 is just how messed up the game world is.  Even before the series started exploring the social aspects between characters, that’s always been a big feature, seeing how the supernatural junk you’re fighting impacts the day to day life of what should be an otherwise normal town/city.  In Persona 5, whatever’s going on seems to be hitting the town hard.  Every single adult you run into is a total piece of trash.  Completely self-focused, all your interactions with them center on how much they would rather be without you, and none of them seem to have a single care for anyone else around them outside of doing their jobs.  All your playable characters are the subjects of some nasty rumors and the derision of their peers.  The city is plagued with people just randomly losing their mind, and most people only care about how it affects them.  If this wasn’t so total, you could take it as just a part of the ‘oppressive order vs. emancipation’ theme they’ve been pushing since the first trailers, but the fact that the city gets so dour, there’s definitely something more going on there.

Your Personae are unexpectedly dark as well.  Whereas previously, they found strength in your self-assurance, and were based in the faces you put on to interact with the rest of the world, in this entry, your personae are based in your rebellion against the rest of the world, and call upon your hatred and lust for vengeance for strength.  I don’t know if it’s forthcoming, but I’d be really interested in seeing an explanation for that.  Philemon’s still hanging around, and although Igor seems a bit changed, he’s still the one managing your Personae for you, so it seems they’re at least closely related to the old personae, but still, there’s a pretty clear difference here.   Likewise, the real-world source of your personae have changed.  Whereas the leading personae used to be drawn from mythology and folklore from a specific nation, here, they seem to come from fiction and history from all over Western Europe.

That most assuredly center’s around the otherworld of this game, the Metaverse.  You travel between the real world and the Metaverse by means of a cell phone app OF DOOM.  In said Metaverse, you find ‘Palaces’ who have ‘Rulers’ which are the shadows of people in the real world.  Shadows, as you may remember from 2 and 4 or if you know Jungian Psychology, are the repressed parts of the personality that a person will refuse to recognize in themselves.  In the Persona-verse, if a shadow gets strong enough from a single person, they can take a form of their own.  To be honest, the shadows were some of the narratively deepest parts of Persona 4, so I’m glad to see them get some more play here.  At least judging by the only shadow I’ve encountered so far, they’re going to be based on more than just your party members this game.  They can seemingly impact the behaviour of their real-world counterparts as well, possibly explaining why everyone in the real world is such garbage.

The Metaverse itself is heavily based in perception and belief.  Regions get altered in the Metaverse based on the perceptions of strong personalities in the real world.  To use the only example I’ve run across so far, an overpowering teacher’s view of his school turns the school in the Metaverse into a castle with his shadow as king.  A pretty direct metaphor, there.  Toy weapons work just fine in the Metaverse if they look real enough, because their targets believe they’re real, and as a result, an airsoft store turns into your armory.  This gives me HUGE flashbacks to Persona 2, in which if enough people believed something, it would change reality to make it true.  I’m kind of interested if that callback will actually come to fruit.

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The mechanics of this game are going to be very familiar if you’ve played Persona 3 and/or 4.  It’s obviously running off of the same design, although it does work in some refinements.  Some might justifiably take issue with the fact that the gameplay is largely the same as it used to be even after a 9-year gap between major releases.  I’m cool with that, though, largely because 1) Persona 4 was a masterpiece and I would gladly take more of that and 2) there’s nobody else who’s delivering the type of experience Persona does, so the model has not been spoiled or even really advanced in the interim.  Your mileage may vary on that front.

One of the few major shifts in gameplay mechanics comes in the form of dungeon design.  Namely, that there actually is some now.  I am excited for this.  Persona 3 and 4 had procedurally generated dungeons, which is almost never a recipe for compelling gameplay.  Now, at least in this first area, we’re getting premade dungeons.  I’m a little hesitant about this, because even at their best, the SMT series has never had great dungeons, but it’s still sure to be better than the randomly generated ones of the past two games.  The initial ones show some promise, playing into the stealth mechanics the game uses.  It puts a lot more weight on sneaking up on enemies and starting the fight from behind them than did previous games, and I got a lot more use out of obstacles, corners, and other dungeon features than I have in previous SMT games, so yeah, good signs here.

A lot of the renovations to the gameplay of Persona 5 seem to be drawing back from the mainline SMT series.  Once again, you have your player characters wielding both melee weapons and guns, which has been a mainstay of most of the Megami Tensei franchise but has been absent in the Persona series since the first game.  Demon negotiation is back, and it uses the classic Shin Megami Tensei call-and-response model rather than the activity/emotions system that the older Persona games used when they still had demon negotiation.  For that matter, I find it really interesting that the enemy shadows are now the traditional Shin Megami Tensei demons that had recently been only showing up as your personae, rather than the unique tarot-based shadows of the past two games.  In fact, that’s how you gain new personae, you talk to the demons once you’ve knocked them all down and remind them that they’re personae, and not shadows.  Given that these shadows are a part of the collective unconscious, and that assuming Persona 5 directly follows from Persona 4 it’s part of the same timeline as Shin Megami Tensei If…, the present-day Devil Summoner games, Persona 1 and the second half of Persona 2, in which these demons were running rampant all over the real world, well, it makes the Wild Fiction Theorizer part of me want to get busy.

While I’m in that vein, it’s not a gameplay feature, but the Persona series is set in Tokyo for the first time.  SMT games usually are, but the Persona series has avoided that thus far, preferring to go towards fictional cities and towns instead.  I find myself wondering if there’s going to something coming out of that.

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I haven’t gone into the plot long enough to make a good judgment on it, but I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.  It’s definitely one of those stories that’s going to take a while to come to fruition, so not wowing me yet, but I can see the same things that made me fall so in love with Persona 4 at play here.  I’m interested in seeing how it rolls out.  Themes of control, imprisonment, and crime are very strong, here.  The early marketing for this game promised that the story would be about breaking free from the imprisonments of the social order, and although I haven’t really picked up on that so far, I can see how theming that we’ve been given so far could translate into that pretty easily as the series progresses.  Thieves are heroes, authority figures are evil, and you need to save the world by criming.  I’m into the characterization, too.  I’d better be, because that’s been the strongest part of the series’s writing since the turn of the millennium.  Again, not been spending enough time to see things come to fruition yet, but I can see the promise there, so far.  I do find myself getting waaay too much of Morgana, the game’s mascot character, already, however.  So far, he acts like the bratty know-it-all you’ve seen in too many video game children so far.  I could turn around on him, I did on Teddie my first time through P4, but, you know, sooner would be better than later.

There is one big problem I’ve had with my time so far.  It’s something that’s not going to carry through the whole game, but I’ve been absolutely writhing underneath it.  The game has those tutorial rails on HARD.  Five and a half hours in, and I really don’t feel like the game has truly given me control.  You’re put in a whole new area that’s obviously deep and active and it won’t let you see a single inch of it that you’re not supposed to.  The game dictates where you go and when, which parts of the dungeon you see and when you have to leave, and so, so much of what you can’t do right now.  There have been a lot of times where I’ve wanted to go a direction the game wasn’t comfortable with me going yet, checking out a new store or some such, and I got the whole ‘you can’t get ye flask’ deal.  Every where I go, I’ve been running into limitations because the plots in a different area or the game hasn’t told me what to do yet.  And when it does tell me what to do, it will brook no disagreement.  I was forced to sacrifice my strongest persona because the game decided it was time to teach me about fusion even though I have played literally two dozen SMT games with that mechanic, and the only fusions I had available at my level involved that one persona.  Look.  I know I’m pretty, and some people think it’s impossible to have both looks and brains, but I’ve been around for a while.  I’ve played a game or two.  I know how to do it.  It feels so, so much like someone’s trying to teach me to walk like a baby when I’m capable of running a marathon.  It’s the biggest leech of fun in what should otherwise be a great experience.

So yeah, there’s my thoughts on this brand new part of my library.  To be honest, this game’s predecessors have meant so much to me that I’m almost certain to enjoy it even it’s a heaping pile of crap, so my objectivity is pretty busted, here.  Even so, I’ve been liking my time with it.  Brings a lot of the good from earlier in the series, draws on a lot of classic features, while the writing and characters seem poised to reach the heights that have been established by that which came before.  I’m liking it, even with that big tutorial tarnish.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear something calling to me.

The Tabletop Critique-Ticket to Ride: First Journey

I’m not positive, but I’ve heard that some people out there have these things called “children”. From what I’ve been told, they’re a type of parasite. They hatch out of eggs inside people’s bodies, then progress to devour their hosts’ time and money as they grow. Oddly enough, people seem to like having these children around. And so they purchase products specially made to appease them.

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Our subject today is one of them. Ticket to Ride: First Journey. As you might guess from the name, it’s based off of a larger, slightly more complicated game that’s made for grown ups, which is what I’ve been told children become when they exit their larval stage and develop muscles and body hair. Now, I’ve never played the original Ticket to Ride, but I’m guessing that this is something of a simpler version of the original. Less rules, less pieces, and some more colors and happy faces.

But in any case, let’s take a look at how the game stands on its own.

So, Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a competitive game about trains. You’re in control of a train company, trying to outperform your competitors by buying and establishing transportation routes between key cities. Specifically, each player is given specific cities to connect with each other. If your routes can take someone from one city to another, you get a ticket. First player to six tickets win.

I’ve heard a lot of very positive reports about the original Ticket to Ride. Apparently it’s the height of easy to pick up hard to master-ness, featuring some simple gameplay with some deceptively complex resource management and predictive strategizing behind it. Ticket to Ride: First Edition definitely maintains that simplicity. The game is pretty easy to work through. So easy, it feels like you just go on automatic, sometimes. It does not seem to have much depth or complexity to it, though. It does have some element of strategy to it, particularly when you have more than two players there and the board starts getting crowded. So skill does make a bit of play. But it doesn’t seem that you have much room to exercise it. Which, you know, you’re playing a kid’s game here, so you shouldn’t be going into it expecting a masterful hardcore tabletop gaming deal, but you know, just saying. It strikes a really good balance, though. It’s enough thinking that your engaged, so you’re having a good time, but not so much that you really have to be planning things out, if you’re not up for plumbing the limited depths there are here.

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One thing I really have to give the game credit for, it is snappy as nothing else. The game moves fast. Even when you’re playing with kids, it is a swift game. It helps that you only do one thing each turn, and you’ve only really got two options. You either get more resources, or use your resources to buy a route. It’s pretty easy to choose what you’re going to do. Even if you’re one of those kid things. This makes it feel super active. It’s not one of those games where you have to wait like ten minutes for the other player to figure out their move because the game never bothered putting in a time limit and your fellow players don’t care about anyone else having a good time. Man, freakin’ scrabble. No, here, you’ve barely finished your turn and it’s your turn again. Same thing for everyone else. It moves fast. Like, cheetah speed in SimCity or something.

The game is pretty rife for abuse, as well. Making plays that, although perfectly legal, are not exactly sporting. For example buying up routes for the express purpose of denying other people easy access between Chicago and Washington DC, or buying worthless routes solely to run out of trains so you can end the game early when you’re ahead on tickets but behind on resources. The rulebook says that you shouldn’t do that, but what is it going to do? Give you a paper-cut when you’re tasting the sweet, delicious, brutal victory? This might be taken as a flaw in the game, a gap in the design. Really, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. This opens up the opportunity to reveal to this ‘children’ the valuable lesson that the world is a horrible place and everyone you trust will take advantage of you if given a moment’s chance. Sure, they may cry in the moment, but think of how better they’re going to be set up to move forward in life.

You know, I wonder if that’s why I don’t get asked to babysit so much. It seems parents would rather just leave their children weak.

So yeah, Ticket to Ride: First Journey. I really wouldn’t recommend that you play it with a group solely made up of ‘mature people’. I actually had a good time playing it with kids, though. It moves quickly, it’s easy for them to pick up on their own so they don’t need me planning out their moves for them, and when you’re working on that level, it’s pretty fun. I didn’t play it long enough for its lack of complexity to wear thin, although that’s a definite possibility, but hey, if you’ve got some of those childrens in your life and you’re looking for something new to do on those slow Tuesday nights, Ticket to Ride: First Journey is really solid. I had some good times with it.

The Tabletop Critique-Cards Against Humanity

I’m just going to guess you’ve heard about Cards Against Humanity by now. Because, really, chances are. It’s gotten a little bit of attention. On the interwebz. I hear some people like it.

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Right, so, if you don’t know about Cards Against Humanity, it’s basically Apples to Apples, except it’s intended to be played the way everyone really played Apples to Apples. The game is played by someone throwing out a statement card. Everyone else plays the cards in their hands that finish up the statement in the most humorous or awful way. Whoever gets the biggest laugh wins, then it all starts over again.

Also, the cards, they tend to be a little… brusque. Dirty jokes and black comedy. That’s part of the charm. Don’t play this game with your mom.

So yeah, game’s simple to play, so there’s not much analysis of the mechanics here. Let’s get down to the judgment here. Is the game good? In the right circumstances, it’s a great time. You have to enjoy this type of humor to have a good time with it, but if you do, yeah, it’s good. It’s pretty dependent on having a good-humored crew playing with you. Larger groups do seem to make it more fun, but the big key is that they have a sense of humor that aligns with yours. I played with a group that did, and had a great time. Played with a group I didn’t know so well, whose humor was more about alluding to baby murder as quickly as possible, and it was a lot more hit or miss. I played it drunk in a party, and it was like I found a new reason for living. I played with my mom, and we ended up having a long conversation about Jesus and my eternal soul.

Blazes, this is the quickest post I’ve written in a long while.

The Tabletop Critique-Magic the Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers

Despite my best intentions, Christmas happened again this year. Sorry about that. A man can only do his best, and although my best is considerable, it takes some time to efficiently bring Christmas to a close. Until then, I suppose we all have no choice but to suffer through it.

In the meantime, that means presents, from people. To me. They try their best. This year, me and mine seem to have gotten a lot of tabletop games. It’s been rather a year for that. A lesser man may simply play them, and leave it there, but I’m much more than that. Instead, I shall use this opportunity to enlighten the world! And you’re welcome.

Right. So with all my traditional self-absorbed pompousness out of the way, I got a lot of new tabletop games this holiday season. I’m going to review them. Sound good? Good.

The first game on the Tabletop Critique chopping block is this little number here.

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Magic: The Gathering holds a special place in my heart. I was super big into it as a cub. Well, as super big into it as you can get without actually owning any cards. See, I had those types of parents who thought that anything their children enjoyed was a tool of the devil, so, I had to rely on borrowing stuff from friends. Still, there was a time in my life where my thoughts were constantly on Magic. Beyond just the game itself, the stories, the world-building, and the lore had a really strong impact on me, kickstarting my imagination at a formative stage in my life in a way that little else did. It may be a little odd, but Magic was where I first started playing with storytelling, using the cards as setpieces to craft my own tales to tell myself, which built into one of those good old lifelong passions.

Eventually, I did start picking up the card game itself, then lapsed out of it, and now generally only play on special occasions. I still do have a lot of fond memories for the flavor and the world, however.

Which I suppose is where Arena of the Planeswalkers comes in. It’s a competitive miniature-based tabletop game. I know absolutely nothing about Heroclix, so I feel completely comfortable assuming this game is exactly the same but with a different flavor and a major twist to the mechanics somewhere. Each player controls one planeswalker figure and a collection of critters associated with them, then uses this squad to attempt to conquer all the other players who are doing the same.

In keeping with the source material, you’ve got five colors to work with, each with their own planeswalker, creatures, and spells. Each comes with their own strategic focuses, strengths, and weaknesses, giving you the tools you need to craft your tactics in taking the other teams down. Combat takes place on a game board that can be set up a couple of different ways, with a few obstacles and terrain features to present risks and opportunities. Each creature and planeswalker has different stats and traits, each spell card affects the battle in different ways, you get the picture.

Arena of the Planeswalkers isn’t very flavorful, but mechanically, it does carry the Magic the Gathering feel about as well as you could expect when turning the card game into a board game. The mechanics of it are quite simplified, but the functions carry over into the new format quite well. Summoning creatures plays much the same role as in the card games, and well placed spells will twist the flow of the game in exactly the same way as they can in the card game. In terms of mechanical feel, the game has built it’s similarities with the CCG with unequivocal success. Continue reading

The Lady’s Signal Boost

Once upon a time, I introduced all y’all to The Lady’s Choice, a pay-what-you-want regency romance visual novel that’s actually pretty good, and I’m not just saying that because the developer is a good friend of mine and lurks on this blog and is probably watching me right exactly now!

Right.  In any case, you may recall from that last post that one of the three main romance options ended up without a route.  Pretty standard, getting cut for time, for what started as a NanoRemo game.

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Well, that’s been corrected.  And you know what?  Even if the lead in that route isn’t as hunky as my main man Lord Isaac “Drubmaster” Stanton, the route itself is good.  Really good.  Was my favorite one in the novel, in fact.

And it seems Seraphinite doesn’t quite understand the concept of DLC.  See, there’s no charge for this.  The game as a whole still goes under the voluntary payment structure, so pay what you want, or nothing at all.

So yeah, I’m shilling here.  But I honestly enjoyed the experience.  You might as well.  What do you say you give it a try?

Play Bad Games

I squirrel away creative works like nuts for the coming winter. I have an odd compulsion, once I own something that’s art to me, whether books, films, or yes, video games, we’re pretty much married. No matter its quality, I will own that work for life. Really, that means I possess works at all levels of quality, from the absolute worst to the “OMG how has this guy not gotten all the awards”.

Years ago, I had decided, during what must have been the truest moment of boredom-induced insanity in history, to play and, as much as possible, complete all of my games. My collection of video games is truly large, numbering in the hundreds, ranging from games produced long before I was born to the present day and beyond, thanks to some weird time shenanigans we won’t get into here. I’m still keeping this quest up today, and I’m still a long way from finishing. I’d like to say I’m a man of class and taste, and that most of the games I own range towards the high-quality end of the scale, but those would be blatant lies. That means that, over the past several years, I’ve played a lot of dreck. I have played games that made me doubt the existence of a kind and loving god, games that I’m sure I put more time into than the developers, games that had me questioning whether boiling my own head would be sufficient to remove the memories of them forevermore.

And you know what? Looking back on them now, it was actually quite a valuable experience.

Most of the people I’ve known will actively stay away from bad games. They might play something that’s kind of meh if the mood strikes them, but something that’s truly bad? Why would they? It makes sense. After the initial purchase, the thing video games really costs you is time, and why would you put so much time into something you dislike? Well, one thing that I’ve found by forcing myself to go through everything on my shelf is that the bad games have value, too. They can help you appreciate both the good games and the medium of video games as a whole more. And not just in a ‘this is so bad that everything’s better in comparison’ way, either.

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For the most part, there’s two types of bad games you deal with. There are those that tried for something and failed, and those that didn’t really try at all. Those that never tried, well, no matter how much I may attempt to rationalize them, there’s often not much in the way of redeeming qualities there. Those that tried and sucked are where the real magic happens. Those are the ones that, while they may not be traditionally enjoyable, might have something that’s worth your time. Maybe they’ve got a good story, even if the team’s not the greatest at putting the gameplay portion together. Or maybe they’ve got some really creative ideas that were just really poorly implemented. Or maybe the way the game was produced on a meta level makes it worth exploring. For example, I’m just now finishing up the Xenosaga… saga. There’s a game series I have every reason to hate. A three game series covering half the size and a third of the plot that was originally intended for it, a story that hits on so many of my pet peeves, a level of meddling from the non-creatives that absolutely crippled the development team, and a gameplay that makes it obvious that the developers were more interested in telling their space opera story than they were actually building a game out of it. And yet, now that I’m reaching the end of it, I find the experience so fascinating. The fact that they were actually able to improve in quality in the final game, in spite of being forced to cut out a lot of what made the engine unique? The way they were able to kind of pull off a game that’s mostly an anime? Having me forget like half of what’s going on, and still making some sort of sense out of it? I may not have been excited about playing it, at least until it gets better in the final edition, but man, it’s really fascinating to me.

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And the fact remains that sometimes the important games, the ones that move the medium forward, are not always the greatest one. If you want to deepen your understanding of a craft, it’s important to analyze and consume not only the best examples, but the bad ones as well. This not only helps you understand where things can go wrong, but sometimes even poorly-made models can lead you places. Final Fantasy II is a great example of this. That game is probably the worst in the mainline Final Fantasy series, with so many gameplay features that seem designed to make the game a chore to play. I also consider it one of the most important innovators in the medium. As far as I can tell, Final Fantasy II is the earliest game to implement the plot alongside the gameplay. Sure, games before this may have had bits of plot to set up the next level, but for the most part, gameplay and plot had a pretty one-sided relationship. The plot would lead to gameplay happening, then you’d reach the end, then more plot would lead to more gameplay, and so on. Final Fantasy II was the one to add in the other half of the relationship, where you, the player characters, were not just being pushed along by the plot, but active participants in it. Things didn’t just happen at a rate coincident with your progress through the game, you made things happen, with plot events coming through as a result of your actions in gameplay. Final Fantasy II laid the groundwork that would be expounded on in Final Fantasies IV, VI, and finally VII, which built those same plot features into something that revolutionized the entire medium. The games very important, and an almost vital trip if you’re looking at playing through the history of games. Even though it sucks.

And, of course, there are times when what’s traditionally viewed as a bad game just clicks with you. Even though it’s reviewed low, it has a combination of features you just really enjoy, and you find it a lot more fun than anyone else. I’m sure everybody has at least a few games like that.

Whatever the reason, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably played your fair share of bad video games.  But maybe, even if the game was bad, the time you spent with it wasn’t so bad after all.  And maybe you should give that one game you’ve refused to pick up for the past decade another chance.  What do you say?